This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty and prostitution in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
I've become more tied to street-level addiction in 2012, and I often get many queries in life and in email-- some good, insightful questions, some woefully uninformed and some offensive. It's odd for one's thoughts and time to be dedicated to something so out of the mainstream, so here's my attempt at answering.
1. Aren't you afraid?
Regardless of how many times it's posed, this question always surprises me. No, I'm not afraid, not in the least. I leave my answer at that. I ask in return: if you carry the disrespect of fear for an area or group of people, how can you expect not to be treated aggressively in kind?
Please see: Statistical Chances of Harm
But you're a woman.
Yes, I am aware of that. My gender won't impede me from entering an area. No, I don't have more fear because of this, but nor am I reckless. I carry awareness for my surroundings, as anyone of any sex should in a new or uncertain environment.
Pimps have tried to recruit me, and johns often try to pick me up. The reality is, women in the area are often asked if they work the streets. Being female allows me to understand this a bit more.
However, as far as personal interactions go, men have respected me far more on the streets of the South Bronx than they have in Midtown Manhattan. They speak to me politely (as opposed to many mid-level finance executives), and I've never been groped, unlike in the subway or in Manhattan. I'm harassed much more by men in suits and by hipsters than I am in Hunts Point.
2. Doesn't seeing addiction on the streets depress you?
No, it shows me how resilient people are, how, as brutal and bleak as life gets, people can find humor and friendship.
3. What have you learned about addiction from being in the Bronx?
Addicts are some of the strongest people I'll ever meet. I respect those that struggle with addiction enormously.
The vast majority of women who work the streets in Hunts Point have been severely abused by men in their lifetimes. They turn to drugs to deal with their past suffering and the fear, uncertainty and disgust from the sex work. Addiction often (though not always) comes from coping with immense pain -- emotional, physical and psychological.
4. Aren't you afraid you'll catch something?
See question 1 about respect. Many of those I speak with battle Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS, and so what?
5. What's the worst thing that's happened to you in Hunts Point?
6. What's the most danger you've put yourself in?
I've gone in several gang-controlled drug buildings, upon invitation of a resident.
7. How do you deal with the bad people you meet?
I don't believe anyone's truly bad, just as no one's all good. The innate stereotypes I came harboring have fallen away over time. For instance, however much I could have doubted it, I've become close to, and fond of, a pimp. She's cried on my shoulder, fearing that her little brother might get into her line of work. No one's one-sided: people are complicated and wonderful.
7. What are you doing with all of this?
I'm writing a narrative non-fiction book.
8. What do you hope comes from your time in the Bronx?
I want to reduce the stigma surrounding those who live on the streets and who struggle with addiction. I want people to have a greater awareness of the level and cycle of poverty in America, the entrapment of some communities.
9. What can I do to help?
You can share the story of your addiction. You can temper your fear of poor or drug-ridden communities. You can acknowledge the level of societal judgment that exists for those combating addiction and work to change your own mind and/or others'. You understand that, because of genetic and financial luck, life's a lot easier for some of us.